Dell Inspiron 700m Review (pics, specs)

by abaxter Reads (314,983)

The Dell Inspiron 700m sits on the borderline of being an ultraportable (usually determined as a notebook weighing 3 4 lbs) notebook and a thin-and-light style notebook (defined as a notebook weighing 4 6 lbs).  With a gorgeous 12.1 widescreen, 4.1 lbs of weight and 1.5 inches of thickness this notebook is certainly small and highly mobile, yet still big enough that is very usable given the widescreen viewing and decent, though not full, sized keyboard it has.  Let’s get on with a full review of the good and the bad of this Inspiron 700m laptop.

Left-side view of Dell Inspiron 700m (view larger image)

Specs:

The review unit Inspiron 700m has the following specs:

  • Intel Pentium M 725 (Dothan 1.6GHz Pentium M Processor)
  • 512MB RAM
  • 12.1 WXGA Widesceen
  • Intel PRO/Wireless 2200 (802.11 b/g) Internal Wireless
  • 40GB Ultra ATA Hard Drive, 4200 RPM
  • 32 WHr 4-cell Lithium-Ion Battery
  • Windows XP Home, Service Pack 1
  • 24x Combo DVD/CD-RW Optical Drive
  • 1-year warranty

The price for all of this came to $1,446.70 after a coupon code was applied for 10% off.  I ordered the notebook on 8/14/2004 soon after it was announced by Dell and it took almost 3 weeks for it to arrive with the receiving date being 9/7/2004.  Usually a notebook from Dell will ship quicker, but when it s a new release you can expect a longer time on delivery.

Front view of Dell Inspiron 700m (view larger image)

Design

The Inspiron 700m is unlike any other Inspiron in it s look and design.  First of all the 700m s lid is a very pale silver and almost white in color.  There are some white trimmings on this notebook so it has a clean look and does borrow a bit from the styling of Apple s PowerBook.  The quality of the casing and overall finish of the 700m is not as good as an Apple PowerBook, but the inspiration was most definitely borrowed from that line of notebooks.

Overall I like the design of the 700m, it actually reminds me a lot of the Sony VAIO TR series, except kind of pumped up a bit so that it s larger (the Sony TR has a 10.6 screen and weighs 3.1lbs).  It s got enough style to turn some heads, but it s by no means loud in it s design as the Acer Ferrari notebook is.  A friend of mine called the 700m cute .  I guess I would agree with that, so if you re looking for a notebook that screams get out of my way or you want to present an attitude, then don t look here.

Build

I separate the build from the design as it is entirely possible for the design of a notebook to look nice, but the build to feel a little cheap.  The build of the 700m is not cheap by any means; it feels relatively sturdy and even looks slightly rugged from the side.  However, this notebook was not made to be tossed around.  The casing is plastic and gives the impression that if it were dropped from 3ft. or more there could be some damage registered.  I didn t try this, I ll leave it to an accidental drop to determine this estimation I make.  Where the build does feel a little cheap though is with the touchpad and mouse buttons.  The mouse buttons are just plain clunky and make a lot of noise.  On my 700m the left mouse button depresses in a lot further than the right one.

The good news is that the keyboard has no flex, it is sturdy, and the rest of the notebook build feels solid too.  The lid hinge feels solid and is still easy to open, the CD tray is not overly wobbly and there are not buttons or ports that look like they re begging to fall off or cause problems after a few months of use.

Inputs and Ports and Layout

Let s take a tour of what s on each side of this notebook:

Front-side view of the Inspiron 700m and a look at its layout (view larger image)

Left-side view of the Inspiron 700m and a look at its layout (view larger image)

Right-side view of the Inspiron 700m and a look at its layout (view larger image)

Bottom-side view of the Inspiron 700m and a look at its layout (view larger image)

As you can see, an ample number of ports are provided for such a small notebook.  A modular optical drive is a big bonus, this makes it easy to upgrade your 700m to a DVD burner if you want.  The S-Video out, VGA out and, FireWire and SD card reader are all nice extras to have on this sized laptop too.  Not putting any ports on the back ensures that all of the ports are easily accessible.

left-side of Inspiron 700m (view larger image)

right-side of Inspiron 700m (view larger image)

Screen

The screen is where the 700m shines.  And I do mean shine, as this is the brightest shiniest notebook screen I ve come across.  I ve used the Sony VAIO TR5 with it s XBrite technology and the HP zt3000 with it s BrightView screen, but the Dell Inspiron 700m is just slightly brighter and better than these.  Watching DVDs or viewing images is a treat, as colors are vibrant and gorgeous and the contrast amazing.  The screen brightness is truly amazing and the angle at which you can view the screen from is great.  The widescreen is extra good for DVD viewing and, although the resolution is quite high and you can t fit a ton on the screen, the widescreen allows you to view two windows at the same time with relative comfort.

See the reflective qualities of the screen?  Yes, that’s my reflection taking a picture (view large image)

There is a downside to the screen though, to achieve the greater color contrast Dell has used a screen that is highly reflective in nature.  This means you get a mirror effect from the screen so you have to train your eyes not to focus on the inevitable reflection that will occur.  I don t have a problem just focusing on the content of the screen and ignoring reflections.  But for some this reflective quality of the screen will be so annoying that you d prefer to have a regular screen that s dimmer and non-reflective in nature.

Processor and Performance

Then Intel 725 Pentium M that came with the Inspiron 700m I have is as snappy as it needs to be.  In using Office applications, doing image editing and surfing the web I didn t even come close to putting a burden on the machine.  The 700m never slowed down once.  Below are some performance benchmarks that CNet.com ran on the 700m:

BAPCo MobileMark 2002 Performance Rating, Longer Bars mean Faster Performance

Dell Inspiron 700m (1.8GHz Pentium M, 512MB RAM)
211 
HP Compaq nc6000 (1.8GHz Pentium M, 512MB RAM)
207 
Gateway M275XL (1.8GH Pentium M, 512MB RAM)
192 

As you can see, the Inspiron 700m faired well and outperformed its competition in terms of speed.

I also ran a program called Super Pi (http://pw1.netcom.com/~hjsmith/Pi/Super_Pi.html) that allows you to calculate Pi out to 2 million digits.  It took 2 minutes and 10 seconds to perform this task.  I got the same 2 minute and 10 second mark whether the 700m was plugged in or running on batteries.  As a comparison, you can see below how other notebooks performed with this program and check out the thread in our forums where others have posted their notebook speeds: http://www.notebookreview.com/forums/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=2657

 Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
Dell Inspiron 700m (1.6GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 10s
IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 23s
Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz) 3m 3s
Fujitsu P5020 (1.0GHz Pentium M) 3m 50s
Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 28s

You can see once again the Inspiron 700m processor is snappy enough to outspeed other mobile notebooks with its Pentium M 725 Processor that features the latest Intel chipset dubbed “Dothan”.

If you want to play games on the 700m then you ll be fine with most regular 2D games if you have 512MB of RAM or more, but 3D engine games such as UT2004 or Doom 3 will not run well if at all on this notebook.  To run high-end games you need a dedicated graphics processor (commonly referred to as GPU for Graphics Processing Unit) that has its own dedicated memory (commonly referred to as VRAM for Video RAM).  Either way, the 700m with its small 12.1 XGA screen and non-dedicated graphics solution is just not a recommended notebook for playing games.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Keyboard and touchpad above view (view larger image)

I m so spoiled by my IBM ThinkPad T40 keyboard that any other laptop s keyboard I use just feels inferior.  But to be fair, one must consider the fact that Dell had to crunch the keys of the 700m into a much smaller area than IBM did for the T40, so sacrifices in usability are expected in order to save on space.  The Inspiron 700m keyboard is approximately a 90% full size keyboard, so be prepared to retrain your fingers on how far they have to travel to hit a key.  I found the learning curve highest for keys I have to reach down to.  Hitting the . key was a constant challenge.  Even after weeks of use I keep missing that key every time I go to push it to end a sentence.  Overall the keyboard can be described as cramped and not revolutionary, the IBM X40 is of the same size as the 700m but manages to provide a much better and much more usable keyboard.  The 700m keys are responsive and the overall keyboard feel is solid there s no flexing, so it s overall an average keyboard.

The Touchpad is okay.  It s not as bad as some Sony VAIO laptops I ve used in which the touchpad behaved almost randomly.  However, it s hard to get fine control using the touchpad to do such things as scrolling scroll bars.  If I try to scroll a page just a little with the touchpad it always turns out to scroll more than I want.

The mouse buttons below the touchpad are just plain clunky.  They make a lot of noise when clicked and just feel cheap.  The left mouse button on my Inspiron 700m for some reason depresses much further than the button on the right.  The buttons work fine of course, they just don t feel all that nice.  Maybe you re not as picky as I am and this won t bother you though.

Sound & Audio

The Inspiron 700m has two speakers that are actually built into the screen and project sound forward towards the user.  The soundcard does provide stereo sound, as you would expect given the fact there are two speakers!  However, as is almost always the caveat with laptop speakers, the sound is somewhat tinny and if you turn up the volume a lot it starts to sound bad.  Plug in headphones to the front-side port to achieve better sound and get some bass, as the built-in speakers provide almost no bass.

Heat & Fan

I m happy to report that the Inspiron 700m is both quiet and cool.  You won t have papers blown off of your desk as a giant sized fan kicks in to blow out hot air when using the 700m.  Rather, the Inspiron 700m is whisper quiet and you won t be hearing any noisy fan.

The Inspiron 700m is also cool running and does not generate too much heat.  It is comfortable to use on your lap, you won t burn yourself or feel uncomfortable.  The only thing that does make it slightly awkward to have this notebook on your lap are the rubber feet on the bottom, they tend to stick into your legs and don t let the notebook rest flat on your legs.  But at least the fact the notebook doesn t get too hot means it won t cause any discomfort to the, umm, crotch area shall we say.  The fact heat is not an issue is a kudos to the design of this notebook and the Pentium M processor, often times I find with smaller notebooks that the heat builds up quite a bit due to the fact all of the components are smashed together and it s hard for the heat to exhaust out.  This is true with the Sony VAIO TR5 I last used, the Inspiron 700m is much cooler than it.

Battery Life

This is the part of the review where I hang my head in disappointment.  Everything was pretty good up to this point, but there s no beating around the bush, battery life is below mediocre for a laptop that claims to be a traveler .  Travel with this on a plane ride that lasts more than 2 hours and you ll be calling it a lot of words, but not a traveler when the battery dies at precisely 2 hours of usage.  Yes, 2 hours of use is what I got in my experience with the provided 4-cell battery.  This is unacceptable for a notebook that is designed to be taken and used easily for travel.  You re literally forced to buy an extended life battery or carry an extra battery.  So much for travelling lightly and without bulk.  Check out this quote about the 700m from the Dell website:

Weighing in at 4.1 pounds and 1.5″ thin, the stylish InspironTM  700m is the go anywhere notebook perfect for students and frequent travelers. Full-featured with a two spindle device design, a fast Intel Pentium M processor, and a 12.1 wide Crystal-Clear LCD screen, the Inspiron 700m offers a complete mobile, computing solution.

Well, go anywhere as long as it s not for over 2 hours and away from an electric plug outlet.  The extended life 8-cell battery is a $130 add-on option that should extend your battery life to over 4 hours.  It will stick out of the back of the Inspiron 700m quite a bit though and add weight.  Plus I think $130 is overpriced for a battery I guarantee Dell gets these for around $30/$40 from a Taiwanese supplier so the markup is rather huge.  Oh well, it s how these computer companies make there money.

OS and Software

I selected Windows XP Home as the operating system for the Inspiron 700m.  I wasn t going to use it for code development or as a web server so it s all I needed.  Unfortunately the XP Home I got did not have the latest Service Pack installed.  All Inspiron 700m machines that now ship will have this though.  The included software is standard fair, you do get recovery CDs so that s nice.  Here s a list of included software:

 Image restore disks
 Dell Resource CD with Application Backup
 CyberLink PowerDVD v5.1 Decoding Software for DVD
 Norton Internet Security 2004, 90-day trial
 Dell Jukebox powered by Music Match
 AOL 9.0 (Yuck)
 Word Perfect Productivity Pack 12
 Microsoft Encyclopedia 2004
 Dell Media Experience version 2.1
 Dell Photo Album
 Jasc Software Paint Shop Trial Edition

You ll want to buy Office XP if you don t already have a copy, the Word Perfect Suite just doesn t cut it when compared to MS Office.  If you despise all the bundled promotional applications such as AOL 9.0 and Norton AntiVirus that come installed by default on the 700m and you are a power user then you might want to format the hard drive and then reinstall the Operating System (not using the Recovery CD, that ll just reinstall all the garbage applications such as AOL and other trial software, use the Windows XP Home CD that comes with the 700m).  If the word format and hard drive put together scares you, then don t pay attention to what I just said.

Optical Drive

Good news, the optical drive is modular on the 700m, as is the way with most Inspiron notebooks.  This means that if you initially buy the 700m with just a plain DVD drive and wish to upgrade to a DVD burner then you can just buy a DVD burner specifically made for the 700m from the Dell website and then switch it out with the DVD drive in there.  It s simple to slide out the optical drive and replace it, you can even do this while the notebook is turned on.  I wish Sony would learn to do this with their notebooks, every VAIO I ve used has a fixed drive which means if you want to upgrade the optical drive later then it s just too bad, you can t.  Good job Dell, keep those modular drives coming.

Conclusion

I have no problem endorsing the 700m as a good notebook.  I really like its looks and I really, really like the screen.  It is priced very competitively if you use coupons (checkout http://www.notebookreview.com/dellCoupon.asp for the latest Dell coupons that are available) and take advantage of marketing deals the 700m can be had with a nice configuration for $1400.  If you re on a budget and only need a basic configuration then it s even cheaper.  This notebook is good for students that want to be able to get around easily and carry a notebook under their arm.  If you wanted to take this notebook to class to take notes then it s small enough for you to see over the screen and pay attention to the professor and see the board/slides being presented for lecture.  This notebook is also a good size for business people that need to travel or just want a smallish notebook that can easily be transported between work and home.  The 700m can fit easily in a work bag or even under the arm for carrying it short distances.  Again, please be warned that if your lecture or business meeting is over 2 hours and you want to take notes or do a presentation with the 700m then bring an AC adapter.  Battery life is poor with the included 4-cell battery, it ll die on you at around 2 hours if you have the screen set to full brightness.

If your intention is to have this notebook sit on a desk the entire time, then you re buying the wrong one.  This is not a desktop replacement style notebook.  Look at the Inspiron 9100 or Inspiron 8600 for such a thing, you ll get a more powerful machine for a similar price with those notebooks.  The 8600 and 9100 are of course less mobile.

Things that could be improved on the 700m include the keyboard and touchpad.  They re kind of clunky.  Also, there are no shortcut buttons for such things as volume or DVD playback, this is so standard on notebooks today that it s surprising not to see them.  You re forced to use the Fn key combined with another key on the keyboard to perform such shortcuts.  Boo.

The SD card reader is a nice touch for transferring files from your digital camera or PDA.  If you have a Digital Video Recorder the FireWire port will allow fast transfer of files from such a device.  The VGA and S-Video out are also welcome ports, overall the port layout and options for the 700m are good for a smaller sized notebook.

Pros

  • Gorgeous 12.1″ inch widescreen that has amazing color contrast and brightness
  • Excellent processor performance for a portable laptop, the Pentium M 725 and 735 options are both fast
  • Nice design and clean look, almost like  PowerBook

Cons

  • 2 hour battery life (and sometimes less) for a “traveler”, c’mon that’s terrible!
  • Clunky mouse buttons and so-so touchpad
  • Plastic casing won’t absorb much of a drop

Pricing and Availability

Available from Dell.com of course!


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